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Psychology: Manufacturing Victims

manufacturingvictims.jpgIn Manufacturing Victims: What the psychology industry is doing to people. Dr.Tana Dineen investigates the possibility that the psychology industry literally turn patients into victims in order to create a steady supply and demand of psychological problems the industry can profit from. This perspective provides a dark perspective on the linkages between corporatism, marketing, revenue generation and psychological well being. As uncomfortable as it is to consider, the idea of manufacturing victims is backed by a wide range of concrete evidence described by Dr. Dineen. The underlying premise behind manufacturing a victim is to impose a deep sense of need in people (the supply) so that the solutions being offered by the business of psychology can be distributed (the demand). We are all familiar with this approach when it comes to more commonplace marketing that encourages us to purchase material objects such as a car, a stereo, or a book. But in Dineen's realm this approach leads us into more horrific and evil territory, that is, psychological well being as an economic opportunity...

How Are Psychological Victims Manufactured?

The proposition is a simple and one that is common to commercial marketing in general. It begins with attempts to instill a sense of need in people, to make them believe they must have something in order to get more out of life. Commercial advertising is well known for placing products in the imaginery context of a desireable lifestyle, or more simply, to encourage people to believe that by owning a certain product that have access to a better way of life. Often, the specifics of the product itself are secondary since it is the image of the product that is more important than the actual content of the product.

We entered the 21st century having confused the pursuit of happiness with the purchase of psychological expertise. And that is a very dangerous thing to do.
- Manufacturing Victims: What the psychology industry is doing to people.

Psychology and psychiatry, as a commercial endeavour, require patients that have problems that need to be addressed. If people did not have emotional problems the industry would collapse. Dineen points out that the psychology industry has become quite adept at instilling psychological need in people:

Society has accepted the idea that there must be some psychological solution to all of life's pain and that one can buy it for oneself or even purchase it as a gift.
- Manufacturing Victims: What the psychology industry is doing to people.

Thus the metaphor of manufacturing is an appropriate filter to explore the business of psychology. What makes this proposition so distasteful is the abuse of people's feelings to create need: "It is through caring that psychologists create need, and through helping that they establish dependency." Thus caring and helping, two words that originate in love, become weapons for mass victimization. And this approach is in no way unique to the psychology industry. Marketing and advertizing proliferate with examples of compelling words being used that, underneath it all, have little relationship to the thing they attempt to describe.

A person is manufactured into a victim when caring breeds fear and helping breeds dependency. What I sense throughout her book is that Dr. Dineen has identified and revealed a set of underlying assumptions that all too often lie hidden beneath the veneer of commercial psychology.

Authentic Victims vs. Manufactured Victims

Of course, none of this is to say that there are not people in the world who experience deeply traumatic situations that cause intense psychological distress. For example, Kay Redfield Jamison's exploration of her own personal battle with manic depression stands out as a heroic account of one person's journey through the ravages of mental illness. But these people, according to Dr. Dineen, are not good material for marketing:

...authentic victims are not big business. They tend not to be good raw material for the type of victim-making profitable to psychologists... It is the fabricated victims rather than the real ones who are big news and big business... But the word "victim" has a new, diluted meaning. Drawing its thrust from the association with actual atrocities such as the Holocaust, the word is now closely connected to the popular psycholigized versions of "emotional trauma.".

By influencing our associations with words, in the case the word "victim," our beliefs can be changed. Marketing, in one sense, is an attempt to instill and propagate meaning in specific words in order to increase the probablity of a certain kind of behaviour. If we can more closely associate ourselves as being a victim then the marketing equation is complete, the need is imposed, and the supply-demand chain established. More simply, if you come to believe that you are a victim then you are more likely to seek the solutions offered by the psychology industry. In a Borg-like manner, you become assimilated and, of course, become an advertisement for the industry.

This process is energized by the repression of our fear. In other words, we find ways to talk about it as a means to avoiding it. Johnnie Moore captures this idea in his comment:

People often quote the Churchill line about nothing to fear but fear itself. This is often used to suggest that people just need to "pull themselves together". Actually, I think it contains a deeper wisdom than that; that often we do need to be willing to fully experience our fear, and that the best thing for our supporters to do is to find the courage to be with us in our fear instead of trying to talk us out of it.
- Talking to horses and talking to people

I agree. If we do not allow ourselves to fully experience our fears then we perpetuate them. And the perpetuation of fear, it seems to me, is a core marketing tactic in manufacturing victims. Joseph Campbell (refer to Bliss: Learning as Mythological Transformation) offers the most vital expression of this challenge:

It’s important to live life with the experience, and therefore the knowledge, of its mystery and your own mystery… The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.
- Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth

Manufacturing Victims: Students and Education

It is not difficult to extend the underlying argument presented by Dineen to the sphere of education. As with human feeling and emotions, the idea that an education system could be manufacturing vicitims is repulsive. But the parallels between the two remain a distinct possibility. For example we might modify Dr. Dineen's comments to

Authentic learners are not big business. They tend not to be good raw material for the type of victim-making profitable to educators.

On the surface, this is an offensive sounding statement. However, the idea of "manufacturing students" is not an uncommon one, nor is the idea of schools as assembly-lines uncommon. The manufacturing metaphor has a place in thinking about education systems.

The education marketing system is also one that imposes a demand. That demand is essentially that an education is necessary in order to become successful in society. We might another one of Dr. Dineen's quotes to:

We entered the 21st century having confused the pursuit of learning with the purchase of educational expertise. And that is a very dangerous thing to do.

This is a core assumption in the marketing of education and schooling. The idea that educational expertise is necessary passage to a successful life, and both the nature of the expertise and ideology surrounding a successful is built on the concept of the prerequisite. Ideas such as "authentic learning" are really marketing strategies for the propagation of the educational agenda. In other words, students and teachers are in fact victims of a system that does intentionally markets education as a solution to problem of its own invention.

In Instructional Technology: The Psychology of a Psychology Course I shared an actual experience my son had in a university psychology course. The idea that my son was a victim both of psychology as well as education seems to merge here. It is startling and unsettling to see ideas about psychology delivered in such an ineffective and nonsensical manner. It is equally startling and unsettling to see education deliver psychology in such a deliberately impersonal and isolating manner. Yet it is perhaps in examples such as these that we can see the intersection of education and psychology as a means to manufacture victims.


  • The Dark Side of Psychiatry
  • Dr.Tana Dineen
  • Psychiatric Drug Facts
  • Spkied Online: Dr. Tana Dineen - How science inspires puzzlement and wonder

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